info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  
Rennie McDougall, Harriet Ritchie, Alisdair Macindoe, Conversation Piece, Lucy Guerin Inc Rennie McDougall, Harriet Ritchie, Alisdair Macindoe, Conversation Piece, Lucy Guerin Inc
photo Brett Boardman
A LINE OF ORANGE PLASTIC CHAIRS, A WHITE FLOOR, STERN ROWS OF FLUORESCENT LIGHTING ABOVE: YET ANOTHER MINIMALLY MUTABLE, LIMINAL SPACE IN WHICH A THEATRE LAB TESTS HUMAN BEHAVIOUR. THE TOOLS WILL BE VERBAL IMPROVISATION AND STRUCTURED DANCE. THE TEST ANIMALS, THREE DANCERS AND THREE ACTORS. THE SUBJECTS: [1] THE STRUCTURES OF SOCIAL CONVERSATION; AND [2] THE THEATRE/DANCE NEXUS.

Three performers (later revealed to be dancers) arrive onstage chatting amiably and before long are riffing on a string of subjects that will become interconnected across the evening’s performance. Tonight’s improvised discussion from Alisdair McIndoe, Rennie McDougal and Harriet Ritchie focuses on birthmarks, male nipples, body hair—”beards are in,” a bearded lady and a hairy baby—and “How far have we evolved?”

The performers have been recording their own strands of the conversation on mobile phones which they then pass to three more performers. The new trio (actors Matthew Whittet, Alison Bell, Megan Holloway) listen to the recordings and reproduce them, standing still and with firm if neutral accentuation. What they capture is the structure of the peculiar turn-taking, trumping, affirmations and rhythms of the original conversation.

Then the dancers dance while the actors keep speaking as well as offering small complementary gestures, hands passing across faces as if sharing a communal, ritualistic language without obvious meaning, but resonant with the communality of the show’s opening. Group movement will return as a motif, although in different forms.

From here on, the opening dialogue is subject to various treatments yielding fascinating outcomes. A single strand of dialogue, shorn of responses, becomes a scornful monologue, or half of an overheard phone conversation, a backwards ‘foreign’ rendition or an interpretation. We fill in the gaps but meaning is newly charged each time. With the seats realigned, these variations are performed as if overheard in a bus station waiting room, the conversation sometimes forced on unwilling listeners. Non-verbal communality is re-achieved when the i-Phones become musical instruments and the performers a quirky band, their bodies mimicking actual playing, one performer, for example, very effectively strumming his phone as guitar. (Phone and sound correlations throughout are excellent thanks to sound designer Robin Fox.)

Conversation Piece,  Lucy Guerin Inc Conversation Piece, Lucy Guerin Inc
photo Brett Boardman
The show takes a threatening turn when one performer (McIndoe) brutally invades another’s (Whittet) space commencing with a hand on knee and then a leap onto his lap while the victim keeps churning out words regardless, until the silent antagonist forces him to the ground, stands on him and unplugs him. You could sense separation anxiety coursing through the audience like an involuntary Mexican wave.

Things can only get worse, and they do when apparently senseless violence is followed by behaviours neurotic and psychotic. Whittet will use words to reduce McIndoe to gestural frustration and wordless impotence and then McIndoe will ‘murder’ all save Whittet, hanging their unplugged phone above limp bodies.

Prior to this grim resolution, we witness one actor on her own mad trajectory obsessively filming a male dancer with her phone or free-form cavorting as the rest of the cast dance neatly along two sides of the stage. As well, a sense of conversation as the generator of exclusion rapidly escalates in a new phase in which, for example, an actor takes the words of the original innocent conversation and turns them into weapons, improvising caustic responses to those utterances: “You like talking about nipples, don’t you? Lactation from a mole! A scary monkey child? You’re up yourself.” Our memory of a conversation now cruelly un-pieced plays a crucial role in the show. As it ends we hear those initial words in all their benign clarity.

It is sometimes said that violence ensues when words run out. Here the words are toyed with, corrupted and exhausted, and the body asserts itself, but no longer in the safe house of dance. Of course it’s a fallacy to claim that the dancing body is inherently truthful or morally superior to the speaking body, although it might be able to express some things that are beyond words. The body, and dance no less, can lie with its own language and assert itself psychotically and fascistically. I doubt Lucy Guerin is a dance romantic given that the ambiguities of the relationship between words and body are writ large here and dance, in the end, offers no salvation (her Human Interest Story is similarly bleak). That said, I wondered why dance didn’t play a more prominent role improvisationally, beyond its structural provision of providing a certain fragile communality. Perhaps that was determined by the limitations of the dance/theatre experiment and there’s no denying that movement underpins Conversation Piece and is tightly correlated with the unnervingly rich dance of words.

For her Belvoir commission Lucy Guerin has created a powerful dance/theatre hybrid (the other I can recall is choreographer Anouk van Dijk’s [see article] very different collaboration, Trust, with playwright and co-director Falk Richter for Berlin’s Schaubühne Am Lehniner Platz [RT95]). Guerin’s verbally extrovert dancers were wisely chosen, while the three actors got to prove their improvisational skills with words in extremis towards the show’s end. Conversation Piece makes the mind work, the audience delighting in its play with their intelligence as it draws into consciousness their inherent knowledge of how talk works and they witness the palpable physicality that is ambiguously entwined with it. Just how funny (very on the night I saw Conversation Piece), how grim (apparently not every night), how meaningful each performance becomes I imagine is determined by the tone and content of the initial conversation while the predetermined dance structure and improvisation strategies nonetheless incline the work into dark, unplugged territory where smart phones hang in indeterminate space obsessive-compulsively chatting with each other. Test result: social conversation prognosis, bad; dance/theatre nexus, excellent.


See the interview with Lucy Guerin about Conversation Piece and her new work Weather for the 2012 Melbourne International Arts Festival in RealTime 110.

Belvoir: Lucy Guerin, Conversation Piece, choreographer, director Lucy Guerin, performers Alison Bell, Megan Holloway, Alisdair Macindoe, Rennie McDougall, Harriet Ritchie, Matthew Whittet, set & costume designer Robert Cousins, lighting Damien Cooper, sound design Robin Fox; Belvoir Theatre, Aug 29-Sept 16

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 37

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top